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Robert Russell, Director, Labor & Workforce Development, University of Missouri Extension - 1/21/2020

  • Provide Meaningful Work: According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the number one complaint of students who are dissatisfied with their internships is the lack of meaningful work duties. The best internships – the ones that attract high-performers – are those that engage students in assignments that will benefit the company.  Don’t fill your internship with ‘busy’ work or otherwise ‘non-essential’ tasks.  Instead, provide students the opportunity to engage in analytical/problem-solving tasks under the eye of your best mentors and help them understand how the work they are doing will help your organization going forward. 
  • Make your interns feel valued: All employees in your organization want to feel like they are an important, valued member of the team.  Interns are no exception!  While an internship is designed to be a short-term experience, the most successful internships are actually a first step in building a relationship between your organization and a potential employee.  So, make sure your intern feels like they are just as valued as any other employee.  Introduce them to people in your organization.  Make sure they are invited to your company events.  Mentor and guide them as you would any other employee.  Think about their professional development.  Yes, that’s a lot for someone that might only be with you for a few months.  However, you never know how that relationship will help your organization in the future.    
  • Pay attention to the whole person: While your focus is on work, remember that there’s life beyond work.  How can you help them adapt and ensure that their experience is positive?  Paying attention to their experience outside of work is just as important as what they are doing during work.  This is especially true for interns who are not from your community and do not have the personal and professional connections already built in your community.  Luckily, there are a number of simple steps that you can take that can help ensure they have a good experience.  Some examples of those tasks include ensuring that adequate housing is available, affordable, and easy to find.  Provide opportunities to engage after work hours, also.  Learn about their interests and try to find some connections to groups with similar interests.  Find opportunities for them to connect with other young professionals in your community.  Pay for a movie pass and/or short-term subscription to Netflix.  Most importantly, be creative.  But remember, their well-being extends beyond the hours of work. 
  • Establish clear expectations – now and into the future. One hallmark of effective management is the establishment and articulation of clear expectations.  This should not only be a part of your work with full-time, permanent employees, but also interns.  Make sure that throughout your internship process you are clearly articulating your expectations and goals for the internship and ask interns to do the same.  Be clear about hours of work, dress, and other work expectations.  And be transparent about opportunities for future, permanent employment.  If there is not going to be an opportunity for an internship to lead to future permanent employment, tell students early in the process and highlight the many other resume-building benefits that this internship provides. 
  • Be creative. Are there other ways that you can build an attractive internship?  Can you provide opportunities not available from other employers?  If so, then do it!  For example, there are a number of ongoing conversations in internship circles about whether or not remote working opportunities are available for interns.  Is remote work – even only part-time remote work – and opportunity you can offer?  If so, then do it!  Can you give an intern an opportunity to experience something outside of the norm, whether it’s attending an important meeting with your larger team or doing work that typically is not available?  If so, then do it!  Regardless of what the opportunity is, think of it as a chance to build your organization’s resume as a place that interns want to work. 

Of course, there are many other ways to build your reputation as a destination for interns.  And following this advice also won’t help if there are problems with your organization.  A poor culture, bad leadership, lack of competitive compensation/benefits, or other problems will undermine these efforts.  But if your organization is ready, then doing a little work to make sure your internship is as attractive as possible will help it move to the top of the pile.